Chennai City FC consolidated their lead on top of the 12th Hero I-League standings after Neroca momentarily drew level with them at the top of the table. Riding Pedro Manzi’s third hattrick of the campaign Chennai managed to repeat first leg’s 3-2 scoreline against Gokulam Kerala FC, this time at their home in Coimbatore’s Nehru Stadium on Friday.
Manzi scored in the eighth, 59th and 80th minute of the game, cancelling out Mudde Musa and Joel Sunday’s strikes from Gokulam in the 17th and 38th minutes, respectively, to help his side register a comeback victory after both sides were reduced to 10 men at the end of the first half.
Chennai dominated possession throughout the game and took advantage of the extra space which had opened up in the second half, to take home full three points in a crucial game for the home side.
With this win, Chennai move to 24 points from eleven games and are three clear of Neroca, who have played the same number of matches.
Gokulam remain eighth, their title hopes well and truly buried, with 10 points from 11 games.
The Kerala side adopted physical tactics to stop the marauding Spanish Armada of Chennai City and it looked to have worked initially, with them taking a lead into the break, but Arjun Jayaraj’s red card, seemed to have affected them more than Pandiyan’s did to Chennai, helping the hosts claw their way back into the game in the second half.
Gokulam coach Bino George made Joel Sunday and Rajesh start the game in place of Fabricio Ortiz, who was out for his card offences, and Pritam Singh, both of whom had started their last game. The hosts made one change, bringing back Romario Jesuraj in place of Vijay.
Chennai took the lead as early as the eighth minute of the game when the Sandro and Pedro Manzi combination struck again. Chennai got a corner and Sandro delivered with pinpoint accuracy towards Manzi lurking unmarked on the far post.
His first-time side-volley on the turn bounced and eluded keeper Shibinraj‘s palm while defender Abhishek Das, standing on the line, tried to clear with his head, but only managed to send it through to the roof of the Gokulam net.
Gokulam equalised nine minutes later when Rajesh’s header off a wonderful free-kick delivery by Jayaraj into the box, stuck the Chennai upright and fell to Mudde Musa, whose reflex shot saw the ball bulged the roof of the Chennai net this time.
Then just as the first half looked like petering out towards a draw, Gokulam earned a penalty when Marton Eugene was judged to have handled the ball inside the box off a great cross from Das from the right flank.
Nigerian Joel Sunday, after having scored off a penalty in the previous game, missed this one as Santana brought about a good save, but on the rebound, he ensured that Gokulam went ahead, as he drove home his third of the campaign from close.
There was more to the half though than the three goals.
Just before the half-time whistle, Jayaraj and Chennai’s Pandiyan Srinivasan, who had just come on in place of Eugene, got into a needless scuffle and were promptly shown the red card by referee Om Prakash Thakur.
With both teams down to 10-men, Chennai upped the ante in the second half although Gokulam’s Christian Sabah missed the first golden chance of the half to score.
He went clear into the box after a defensive lapse to score and with only the keeper to beat, made the wrong decision, choosing not to take a first-time shot and wasted the chance.
Then in the 58th minute, Sandro hit the side netting and Chennai knew they were getting closer.
A minute later, Manzi struck his second of the game and ninth of the league, when a floated ball from Nestor into the Gokulam box, saw him shrug off Abhishek Das on his shoulder, to connect with a header, which lobbed over Shibinraj and went into the Gokulam goal. Chennai were back level.
Manzi completed his third hattrick of the 12th Hero I-League on the 80th minute of the game.
It was a Nestor volley this time, off a second ball from just outside the Gokulam box which brought a save from Shibinraj.
Manzi pounced on the rebound ahead of a defender to drill it into the Gokulam net, sending himself to the top of the scorer’s chart with his 10th goal of the campaign.